The 2020 MLB playoffs are just over a week away, even though it seems like only yesterday that the regular season kicked off. The compressed 60-game schedule is rapidly coming to a close, and the MLB standings are tight heading to the finish, with wild-card positioning, postseason seeding and the rest of the playoff picture at stake.
As has been the case with so much this season, the playoffs will have a new look, with an expanded format that includes 16 teams for the first time in MLB history.
This will be the place to visit every day through the end of the regular season for updated looks at the potential playoff field, recaps of the biggest games, analysis of the most important storylines and previews of the critical games ahead.
Jump to …
If the season ended today …
Best-of-three series, higher seed is home team
No. 1 Rays* vs. No. 8 Blue Jays
No. 2 White Sox* vs. No. 7 Indians*
No. 3 Athletics* vs. No. 6 Astros
No. 4 Twins* vs. No. 5 Yankees*
No. 1 Dodgers* vs. No. 8 Brewers
No. 2 Braves* vs. No. 7 Reds
No. 3 Cubs* vs. No. 6 Marlins
No. 4 Padres* vs. No. 5 Cardinals
*Clinched playoff spot
Magic numbers to clinch playoff spot
NL: Marlins 3, Reds 6
AL: Blue Jays 2, Astros 2
Who is in?
The overwhelming preseason favorite was the first team to secure a spot in the postseason tournament, clinching a berth with Wednesday’s win over the Padres. L.A. took two of three from San Diego, which sits in second place in the NL West.
What’s next? Having clinched their eighth consecutive NL West title on Tuesday, the big prize for the Dodgers would be their first World Series title since 1988. This will be L.A.’s 14th playoff appearance since the Dodgers last won it all.
The White Sox clinched their first playoff berth since 2008 on Thursday. It will be the 10th postseason appearance in the history of the franchise, which dates to 1903.
What’s next? Chicago is looking for the AL Central title and perhaps even the No. 1 overall seed in the AL field. After taking three of four from the Twins, the White Sox hold a three-game lead in the Central.
The Rays clinched the sixth postseason appearance in franchise history and their second in a row. Last year, Tampa Bay beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game and lost to Houston in the division series.
What’s next? The Rays’ next goal would be to win the AL East title. It would be their first division crown since 2010.
The A’s punched their third straight postseason ticket with a win over the Giants on Friday night in Oakland.
What’s next? After securing their first AL West crown since 2013 on Monday, the A’s are still in the mix for one of the AL’s top two seeds.
A’s must-read: Inside the A’s dominance and how they plan to make it last
The Twins clinched their third postseason appearance in the past four seasons with their 8-1 win over the Cubs on Saturday. Last year, they were swept by the Yankees in the division series, extending their postseason losing streak to 16 straight since their last win back in Game 1 of the 2004 AL Division Series.
What’s next? Catching the White Sox in the AL Central is probably out of reach, so the next goal would be snapping that postseason losing streak.
The Padres clinched their first postseason appearance since 2006 when they came back to beat the Mariners in extra innings 7-4 after fending off a no-hit bid.
What’s next? Catching the Dodgers in the NL West in the last week of the season is unlikely, so maintaining their position as the top-seeded nondivision winner is their more likely near-term goal as they get ready to make good on their 2020 breakthrough.
Padres must-read: How Padres GM A.J. Preller decided to go for it
Although they took a beating in Boston on Sunday, the Yankees clinched a playoff spot when the Padres beat the Mariners.
What’s next? With the Rays 4½ games ahead in the AL East, the Yankees’ most immediate goals are probably tied to lining up their rotation for October and getting their injury-wracked lineup prepped for the postseason.
Yankees must-read: Yankees ace Gerrit Cole has a HR problem
Even before they finished their game against the Marlins Tuesday, the Braves clinched their third straight NL East title when the Phillies were swept in both ends of their doubleheader against the Nationals. In both of the previous two seasons, the Braves failed to advance beyond the Division Series.
What’s next? Lining up their shallow rotation for next week’s playoff assignments and keeping everyone healthy seem like the immediate goals that make the most sense.
Braves must-read: Why a Braves-White Sox World Series would be extra special
Powered by Jose Ramirez’s three-run home run in the bottom of the 10th inning in Cleveland’s win over the White Sox, the Indians made their return to the postseason after missing out on October in 2019, which snapped a streak of three straight playoff appearances.
What’s next? Two more games against the White Sox and a final weekend series against the lowly Pirates keeps a come-from-behind AL Central title in reach for the Indians.
Like the Indians did as well on Tuesday, the Cubs snapped a single-season hiatus from the postseason, in their case because of the Phillies’ double dose of defeat in their twin bill against the Nationals and before their loss to the Pirates was concluded. Rookie manager David Ross can thus say he helped get his team to October in his first year in the dugout.
What’s next? Beyond clinching the NL Central title — their magic number for that is down to 4 going into Wednesday’s action — getting Jose Quintana and Kris Bryant healthy and ready for the postseason are the Cubs’ two biggest priorities in the time remaining.
Cubs must-read: Inside Yu Darvish’s return to elite status as the Cubs’ ace
Who could clinch next?
• The Rays can clinch the AL East with a win over the Mets or a Yankees loss to the Blue Jays
About last night …
With the Indians down to their final strike, Jose Ramirez cranks a three-run homer to give the Indians a walk-off win and a playoff berth.
The Cubs and Indians, who met in the 2016 World Series, both had frustrating 2019 seasons. The Cubs, after four straight playoff seasons of at least 92 wins, fell to 84-78 and missed the postseason. The front office moved on from Joe Maddon as manager and hired former backup catcher and Game 7 World Series hero David Ross. The Indians won 93 games, two more than in 2018 when they won the division, but that wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs in a top-heavy American League.
Now both teams are back in the postseason, the Cubs clinching despite a 3-2 loss to the Pirates and the Indians clinching with a dramatic 5-3, 10-inning win over the White Sox. Ross has earned rave reviews not just for guiding the Cubs through all of the obstacles of this season, but because the once powerful lineup has struggled even as the Cubs inch closer to the division title. Javier Baez is hitting .202/.237/.355 — and hit cleanup on Tuesday. Kris Bryant, now injured, has hit .195. Kyle Schwarber is hitting .193 and Anthony Rizzo .220.
In that championship season, the Cubs ranked second in the NL in runs per game, behind only the Rockies. With that young core, they figured to remain an offensive powerhouse for years to come. Indeed, they were still second in runs in 2017 (just barely behind the Rockies again), but they fell to sixth in 2018 and 2019 and are just 11th this season.
Ross hasn’t been afraid to get tough with his former teammates either, including benching Schwarber the other day after a poor defensive play. He has handled the bullpen well, even after projected closer Craig Kimbrel imploded early on. Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks have been the team MVPs, going a combined 13-7 with a 2.59 ERA. Theo Epstein would have envisioned a first-place Cubs team in 2020 four years ago — but not as a pitching-first team with a lineup hitting .223 despite all those big names
Cleveland got here exactly how everyone predicted — starting pitching. But Tuesday’s win shows this team is deeper than just Shane Bieber and his rotation mates. It was a bullpen game, with Cal Quantrill starting and throwing four scoreless innings. After giving up two runs in the top of the 10th, they won on Jose Ramirez’s three-run walk-off home run. Ramirez has been on a Mount Everest-high hot streak of late, hitting .356/.434/.828 in his past 23 games.
At times, Ramirez almost feels like a one-man offense, however. Francisco Lindor has been OK but not great. Carlos Santana draws walks but is hitting under .200. Franmil Reyes has had his moments. But, like the Cubs, you wonder if there’s enough offense here for a long October run.
The Braves also clinched on Tuesday, and they’re the opposite of the Cubs and Indians — they crush. They beat the Marlins 11-1 behind five home runs — two from Marcell Ozuna, one from MVP candidate Freddie Freeman, plus shots from Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson. Six guys in the lineup are all slugging above .500, with Ozuna, Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr. above .600. By runs per game, it’s the best offense in Braves history (well, at least going back to the 1890s). They lead the NL (and the majors) in runs per game, which they last did in 2003.
Pitching or hitting? Which do you like in the postseason? — David Schoenfield
Also of note: Brutal day for the Phillies, who dropped a doubleheader to the Nationals. Austin Voth, who entered 0-5 with a 7.17 ERA, tossed the seven-inning complete game to win the opener, and then 32-year-old Yadiel Hernandez slugged his first MLB home run, a two-run walk-off against Brandon Workman in the eighth inning to win the nightcap. Workman fell to 1-4 with three blown saves and a 6.92 ERA since joining the Phillies. Philadelphia’s bullpen ERA: 7.06. … The Brewers got back to .500 with a 3-2 win over the Reds. The story here is rookie setup man Devin Williams, who fanned five in two hitless innings. His numbers are absolutely ridiculous: 25 IP, 6 H, 9 BB, 52 SO, 1 HR, 4 R, 1 ER, 0.36 ERA. … Gerrit Cole made his final start before the postseason — he’ll have seven days of rest before his Game 1 start — and allowed one run (a Cavan Biggio home run) in seven easy innings to beat the Blue Jays. … With the Marlins and Reds losing, the Cardinals jump all the way up to the National League’s fifth seed after shutting out the Royals. The No. 5 seed is not where you want to land in the NL, with a first-round matchup against the Padres and then a likely Division Series against the Dodgers. Then again, you’re going to have beat somebody good to get to the World Series.
The Dodgers clinched the NL West with their 7-2 win over the Athletics. The last year the Dodgers didn’t win their division was 2012, when they finished second behind the Giants. At eight years, it’s the longest stretch of division titles in either league since the Yankees won the AL East nine straight times from 1998 to 2006.
Pennant race debate: Which one player are you most excited to see this postseason?
David Schoenfield: Shane Bieber. The Indians haven’t won the World Series since 1948, and they are hardly the favorites to win the American League, but Bieber is the pitcher most likely to have a Madison Bumgarner in 2014 type of run and carry an otherwise mediocre team to the title.
Joon Lee: Tim Anderson not only finds himself in the middle of a chase with DJ LeMahieu for his second straight batting title, but also for the American League MVP with Cleveland Indians hurler Shane Bieber and teammate Jose Abreu amid another career season during a pandemic. Anderson is the heart and soul of the insurgent White Sox, and the 27-year-old shortstop will be making the first playoff appearance of his career. When considering those circumstances, his penchant for bringing excitement and flair to the field and his dynamic bat at the top of the lineup on the South Side, Anderson figures to make a sizable impression with the eyes of baseball fans nationwide squarely focused on the young and exciting White Sox squad.
Sam Miller: Yu Darvish hasn’t appeared in the postseason since his disastrous pair of starts in the 2017 World Series, and in the ensuing period he has changed teams, gotten hurt, been a bust, added yet another pitch and once more become — surprisingly, but not too surprisingly — one of the world’s five best starting pitchers. He has never had the control over his arsenal that he has now, and nobody is more of a threat to throw a no-hitter in any given start. He doesn’t need to redeem himself for the 2017 World Series — his career is so much more than those two starts — but it’ll be really satisfying to watch him play the ace this October.
Bradford Doolittle: In both 1997 (Livan Hernandez) and 2003 (Josh Beckett), the Marlins’ championship runs were fueled by a hot, emergent pitcher. While I’m not predicting Miami will go on a title romp if it gets into the playoffs, Sixto Sanchez could be that kind of emergent pitcher for them this October. Both his traditional results and his Statcast metrics are elite, and he could be going up against a club that has never seen him before in the opener of a best-of-three series. And that opponent could end up being the Dodgers.
Alden Gonzalez: Sixto Sanchez — because I don’t think anybody has an answer for him at the moment.
Key games ahead
Cardinals-Royals, Wednesday (8 p.m. ET on ESPN2): St. Louis is fighting for a playoff spot, adding some extra juice to this Missouri matchup.
White Sox-Indians, Wednesday (6:10 p.m. ET on ESPN+): Even with both teams already having clinched their spots, the Indians are getting dangerously close to catching the Sox in the AL Central race.
Brewers-Cardinals, Thursday (8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN+): Milwaukee and St. Louis begin a season-ending five-game series that could have major implications on two of the NL’s remaining playoff spots.
Phillies-Rays, Friday (6:40 p.m. ET on ESPN+): The Phillies could enter this final series of the weekend on either side of the line for the final playoff spots while the Rays are currently in a tight race for the AL’s No. 1 overall seed.